Tar Heel: Branford Marsalis champions jazz for all

Publication: The News & Observer
Author: Marti Maguire
Date: May 30, 2015

DURHAM - Branford Marsalis grew up with the sounds of jazz music literally rising from the streets, wafting through the windows of the New Orleans home that would spawn a series of jazz giants.

And yet, the Grammy-award winning saxophonist, composer and bandleader’s career is marked by his versatility. Marsalis has played with the Grateful Dead and symphony orchestras, written Broadway scores and starred in Spike Lee movies. He started a record label, hosted a radio show and led the Tonight Show Band.

When he moved to Durham in 2002, Marsalis brought more than his varied talents and the famous surname. He also brought a legacy of service that he traces back to his musical family – one that has made its mark in the Triangle as well as his home town.

Marsalis regularly donates his time and talents to local causes, most notably the N.C. Symphony. He’s organized and performed at several concerts to benefit the organization, including the upcoming Branford Marsalis and Friends show on Tuesday that will also feature Rhiannon Giddens and The Kruger Brothers.

He’s also worked with local libraries on literacy programs, and shares his musical prowess with students at N.C. Central University, where he is an artist in residence and coach for young jazz musicians.

His music label operates a nonprofit arm that brings jazz musicians to high school and college classes. After Hurricane Katrina, he helped lead the creation of a Musician’s Village in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, including the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a cultural preservation effort named after his father.

“Branford is an incredible musician, but he’s also very involved in bringing people together and committed to building a community around the music,” says Sandi Macdonald, president and CEO of the N.C. Symphony. “He’s really become a leader and an invaluable part of the local arts community.”

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